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25 Powerful Quotes on Racism from History’s Most Inspiring Activists

These insightful quotes about racial injustice still ring true today.

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Woman leading a group of demonstrators on roadPhoto: Tverdokhlib/Shutterstock

Insightful quotes on racism

After the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, protests erupted around the world in solidarity against racism and police brutality. These 25 profound quotes on racism are as relevant now as when they were first spoken.

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Michelle Obama quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Courage is contagious

“History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.” —Michelle Obama

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Langston Hughes quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

In dreams

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” —Langston Hughes

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Martin Luther King, Jr. quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Love and hate

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Barack Obama quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Changes

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama

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Malcolm X quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Personal freedom

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” —Malcolm X

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Nelson Mandela quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Freedom for all

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” —Nelson Mandela

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Desmond Tutu quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Be human together

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” —Desmond Tutu

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Rosa Parks quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Diminishing fear

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” —Rosa Parks

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A. Philip Randolph quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Freedom is won

“Freedom is never given; it is won.” —A. Philip Randolph, civil rights leader

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Martin Luther King, Jr. quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

In times of challenge

“The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Maya Angelou quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

The need for change

“The need for change bulldozed a road down the centre of my mind.” —Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist

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Martin Luther King, Jr. quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Taking action

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Need more inspiration? Here are other wise quotes worth remembering.

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Rosemary Brown quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Future generations

“We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.” —Rosemary Brown, Canadian politician and the first Black woman to run for the leadership of a Canadian federal party 

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Willie O'Ree quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Black history

“Black History month isn’t just in February. To me, it’s every month. It’s year-round.” —Willie O’Ree, Canadian athlete and the first Black player in the NHL

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Muhammad Ali quotesPhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Taking risks

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” —Muhammad Ali

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Lilla Watson quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Walking together

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can walk together.” —Lilla Watson, activist and visual artist

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Franklin A. Thomas quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Complex human beings

“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” —Franklin Thomas, businessman and philanthropist

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Mary McLeod Bethune quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Protest openly

“If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything… that smacks of discrimination or slander.” —Mary McLeod Bethune, political activist and educator

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Angela Davis quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Full measures

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” —Angela Davis, academic and political activist

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Marian Anderson quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

A nation’s strength

“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.” —Marian Anderson, singer

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Toni Morrison quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Unfair treatment

“In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” —Toni Morrison, novelist and academic

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Eleanor Roosevelt quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Work at peace

“For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” —Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States

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Alice Walker quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

Taking a stand

“Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” —Alice Walker, novelist and social activist

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James Baldwin quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

The most ferocious enemy

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” —James Baldwin, novelist and activist

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Cornel West quotePhoto: Shutterstock/readersdigest.ca

A positive difference

“None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.” —Cornel West, political activist and public intellectual

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest